AFR, when fully expanded, stands for Alternate Fuels and Raw Materials. From the time the acronym was coined, the definition of AFR has undergone changes and flexible interpretations, both in terms of alternative fuels, and alternative raw materials. Understandably, there might exist differing viewpoints as to whether petroleum coke qualifies as AFR, alongside things like bagasse or coconut waste. Or, if synthetic gypsum substitutes ( which are by-products of copper refining or fertiliser manufacturing processes ) do qualify as alternate raw materials in place of natural gypsum. Notwithstanding such ambiguities, TSR ( Thermal Substitution Rate ) has so far managed to capture and track progress of substitution in the cement industry more or less adequately. The higher the TSR, greater is our contribution to sustainability, by conserving traditional non-renewable sources of fuel.
In 2016/17, CII had conducted a study on AFR, in its efforts to create a vision document for the Indian cement industry aiming to achieve 25% TSR by 2025. It was reported that while India was ranked 4th globally in consumption of AFR by million tons, India had achieved a lowly TSR of 3.5 to 4 % only. Another important perspective is that the top 3 performers among Indian cement plants have achieved 20 to 25% of TSR, many plants in Europe have logged 80 to 100% TSR rates already. In fact, I had the benefit of visiting a cement plant in Belgium which had achieved 100% substitution (mainly on the strength of oil sludge, paint residue, etc., ) way back in the year 2007. It is evident that, in comparison, India has not only started late, but have also made slow progress thus far in its journey along the path of AFR. If usage of AFR makes economic as well as environmental sense, then isn't it a "no-brainer"? Why then are we lagging so far behind ? A closer look will reveal that there are a number of crucial factors operating here, and these factors are both internal to the industry as well as external.
Using AFR involves changes in operational processes of cement kilns, and moving beyond substitution rates of 2/3 % may require not just tweaking the process parameters, but also may necessitate capital investments. These issues in turn give rise to a kind of resistance in the minds of cement plant personnel, who would love to maintain status quo ante, and avoid disturbing a stable process. This operational mindset is the single largest internal reason which has to be overcome by the industry leaders.
The other factor impeding progress of AFR are the complex and overlapping state level and central regulatory requirements, which do little to facilitate and encourage substitution in cement kilns. Consider that the biggest AFR potential exists in our country in the usage of Municipal Solid Wastes and Biomass, we also need to get our act together in creating an enabling infrastructure for collection, segregation and delivery of such materials. Currently, such facilities do not exist.
It is however, hoped that both the industry and the regulators will move faster in addressing these issues, and that the aspirational target of 25% substitution by 2025 will not remain a pipe dream.
Sumit Banerjee Chairman, Editorial Advisory Board